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The New York Stories of Elizabeth Hardwick (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – June 1, 2010
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“An odd, original talent, Elizabeth Hardwick writes with a tremendous subtlety and a fine drawn sensibility of common frailties.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Nobody writing prose now gives me as much pleasure as Elizabeth Hardwick. She honors our language and enlivens our woe.” —Susan Sontag
“Hardwick is, characteristically without ostentation or polemics, a gifted miniaturist biographer.” —Joyce Carol Oates
"Elizabeth Hardwick died in 2007, but her influence can still be felt in any writer who knows that a story or essay’s tone is based as much on a word’s weight, and the rhythm of a paragraph, as it is on thesis and intention....In the novelist and critic Darryl Pinckney, Hardwick has a brilliant champion. He has gathered together the best of Hardwick’s short fiction in The New York Stories of Elizabeth Hardwick, and, in his powerful and insightful introduction, he expresses something of the charm of the woman—and her great struggles to produce stories that reflected her unique process of intellection, her engagement in the world of ideas. " — Hilton Als, The New Yorker
About the Author
Kentucky and Columbia University. A recipient of a Gold Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she is the author of three novels, a biography of Herman Melville, and four collections of essays. She was a cofounder and advisory editor of The New York Review of Books and contributed more than one hundred reviews, articles, reflections, and letters to the magazine. NYRB Classics publishes Sleepless Nights, a novel, and Seduction and Betrayal, a study of women in literature.
Darryl Pinckney is the author of a novel, High Cotton, and, in the Alain Locke Lecture Series, Out There: Mavericks of Black Literature.
Top Customer Reviews
`Evenings at Home' (published 1948) is set in Lexington, Kentucky, Hardwick's home town, which she left behind for New York, after graduation from the University of Kentucky in 1938, to work toward a Ph.D. in English literature at Columbia University. This autobiographical fiction captures the irony of a sophisticated New York intellectual discovering that her old Kentucky home is truly where the heart is, that she can indeed go home again after a long absence and still feel comfortable with family and friends. Her comfort shifts, however, to unsettled anxiety when she learns that the boy who had been her childhood love still lives in the neighborhood. She recalls her love as "not really love . . . but simply one of those incomprehensible youthful errors" but she still holds her now long-deceased brother, responsible for interfering with her infatuation. After a surprisingly long three weeks at home, it is time to return to New York, but not before visiting the cemetery, more to see its beautiful dogwoods and lilacs than to mourn, with her mother reminding her that "there's a space for you next to your Brother" and knowing that it is comforting to have these roots."
`The Friendly Witness' (1950) presents the reader with an all too familiar story of small-town political shenanigans involving the mayor and a night club owner who also runs gaming tables.Read more ›
The collection begins with a fine introduction to the author's life by Darryl Pinckney. It is incredibly telling especially when covering Hardwick's relationships with men. He believes she brought to life neglected histories using "daring intellectual pitch". For me, the stories are stark assessments of human behaviour and character. In them, some lines are pure gems, "he delivered energetic arguments on safe subjects." or "His attempts at wit had always been forced and he had now become one of those boring people who tell anecdotes about historical personages." or this delightful skewer, "The girl's personality was split wide open with contraries."
If my counsellor and therapist wife were to have read this I am betting that she would assess that Hardwick was influenced by some significant 'family of origin' issues. In fact, the author says as much through various characters, "The lofty intellectual has real family problems.Read more ›
The first stories are a bit hard going, as they show the marks of a lacerating self-consciousness that's hard to read and must have been even harder to live. The female characters are second guessers and overanalyzers. The turning point is "The Final Conflict", a story told from an ordinary, non-reflective Boston antiques dealer's point of view. Hardwick seems to write better when men are the main characters of her short stories. It seems to free her somehow. My favorite part of the collection was at the end, when she had returned to New York from her long years in Boston. These stories, written in the 1980s and 1990s, are celebrations of the city and have a deep vein of joy running through them.
I was particularly moved by "Back Issues," which is set in the New York Public Library. Written in 1981, after the crisis of the 1970s, it celebrates the library as an oasis of permanence: "No reason to doubt the library, "Modern Renaissance more or less in the style of Louis XVI," has survived the night and its treasures, its flakey books, parcels of such peculiarity, will move back and forth from stack to hand like the tide going in and out." (p. 180) Actually, the books in the stacks are being moved to New Jersey to make room for a circulating library, so even that haven of permanence is no more. See the blog "Steamships are ruining everything" for some interesting material on this.Read more ›